Reconsidering Discipleship

Note: I shared this message at a fellowship among university students living in the dorms. May you be blessed! Click on this link if you want to hear the recorded message.

Discipleship is Worship

Let me begin by saying that discipleship is worship. Why worship? Because in discipleship, we give God the glory He deserves as we submit to His will of sanctification. Sanctification is that part of salvation when the Holy Spirit slowly transforms us into more like Jesus in speech, deeds, thoughts and actions.

Note that Justification is that moment when we cross-over from death to life, from being enemies to being sons and daughters of God because by God’s grace we are enabled to put our faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-10). It happens instantaneously. In a moment. Sanctification, on the other hand, is a life-long process of being transformed by the Holy Spirit to be more like Jesus.

Unless we are justified—we have entered into that saving relationship with Jesus—He will not sanctify us. Finally, when Jesus Christ returns, our salvation becomes complete! No more sin, no more corruptible bodies. We may adopt the word “perfect” as we describe the fulfillment of God’s planned salvation story in our glorification (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). All by grace. 

If we are to position discipleship, I believe that it falls mainly on the sanctification part of our salvation. Discipleship is one of God’s ways—if not God’s major means—of sanctifying us. It is worship because as we disciple or as we are discipled, we honor, obey and trust God by submitting to His ways for our sanctification.

Grace in Discipleship

Let us not forget that this whole idea of discipleship, and this process of sanctification still relies on the mercy and grace of God. It succeeds not because we have the best tools, nor the most trained staff, nor the most passionate people, nor the most innovative system. No. It succeeds because the God who began a good work in us “will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).”

The keyword here is grace, coupled by one of God’s most wonderful attributes, faithfulness. We are commonly admonished to be faithful to God, but by simply examining our lives, we can all admit that many times, we’ve failed on this. However, there is this “trustworthy saying” in 2 Timothy 2:13 that goes, “if we are faithless”—we do not believe, or we are in a state of unbelief—“he (God) will remain faithful for he cannot disown himself.”

God’s faithfulness is dependent on His character and not our circumstances. That’s why when Scripture says He will carry on the good work He began in us Christians and complete it, our assurance is not on our goodness, but on who God is. He is faithful because it is His nature.

Thus, if you know you are justified by grace through faith in Jesus, you will surely be sanctified one way or another.  
Discipleship does not make you more of a Christian

Now, discipleship is not a means of making us “more saved” or “more Christian” than other Christians. No. Scripture is clear in Acts 16:31 that when we believe in the Lord Jesus, we are saved. This means that when we trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, turning from sin and rebellion to complete submission to the Son of God, we are fully and wholly saved.

We are saved in whole and not in chunks. Thus, it is simply either you are saved or you are not. You cannot be in the middle. You cannot be saved today and doomed tomorrow. Once you are saved, once you’re in, you’re in (John 10:28).

In this regard, we see that though Christians are in varying stages of Christlikeness, they are all saved, provided that they’ve been truly justified, that they have “truly accepted Jesus into their hearts,” to borrow a modern way of saying it.

Thus, discipleship is not a means of making you more of a Christian, but a result of your being a Christian. Because discipleship is one of God’s ways of sanctifying us—our minds, hearts, attitudes, our whole being—into Christlikeness, it is and must be natural for all  and any saved individual to desire, hunger, long for Bible-based discipleship one way or another.

Salvation = Desire to know more of God

When Paul wrote, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17),” I see a miraculous transformation. In an instant, God puts in our hearts a sudden love for the things God loves and hatred for the things God hates. There is a sudden hunger and desire to know God, to understand everything about Him, to understand His Word.

Have you ever been with new believers? Have you felt their infectious and bursting passion for God? Or do you remember that moment when you first became a believer? I certainly miss that overflowing awe and wonder I felt when I first believed in Jesus. God literally drew me to Himself! I wanted to learn everything about Him overnight. I wanted to finish reading His Word the fastest way possible. I wanted to master all the doctrines and teachings I could master. I wanted to know Him. I wanted to experience Him daily. I wanted to hear His voice. I wanted Him so much! I could not describe the feeling. It’s far better than the feeling of being in loved.

I can distinctly remember that even before I became a Christian, a number of people already invited me to join their Bible Studies. I could remember, in fact, that when I was a freshman (I wasn’t a Christian yet, then), I attended three Bible Studies. I had so many not because I was so passionate for the Lord. I had so many because I didn’t know how to say, “No.”

Though I had three, I was clever enough to evade at least two in a week, and just go through the motions of the last one. My disinterest in God’s Word which is central in discipleship was clear evidence that I was not saved at all. But when I came to know Jesus, that’s the time I hungered for His Word. I genuinely desired Bible Studies. I sought disciplers and discipleship. I no longer evaded but longed to learn about and grow in God.

A Christian Not Being Discipled

How about the phenomenon of Christians not being discipled? If the person is a genuine believer and he or she evades discipleship for whatever reason, there is clearly disobedience to God. But remember that when I say discipleship I’m not thinking exclusively of structured discipleship processes. I use the word discipleship to mean avenues of learning more about Jesus and growing deeper in our faith relationship with Him and with fellow Christians.

If a genuine believer evades these discipleship avenues, then his or her sanctification is compromised. God will still be able to sanctify the person through other means, but it will take longer, more painful even. The elementary truths that would have renewed his mind and transformed his actions may be learned through painful experiences, as God sees fit.

And because he will learn more slowly, he will be limited in his service to God and fellow believers. He will miss out on the great joy of salvation here on earth—being able to give oneself fully in the service of the Lord (Psalm 100). And as a matter of warning, even if you’re already a Christian, assured of heaven and eternity, you will still stand before the Most Holy God. God says in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

What will God judge us of? How have we lived our lives as believers?

But what do we do with these Christians who run away from discipleship? Never give up on them. Pray for them! Pursue them!

What if you are this Christian? Listen to what God says in Hebrews 6:1, “…let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…” May you not be contented with only what you know. When Jesus admonished us to love God with all our being (Luke 10:27), He specifically mentioned that we Love God…with all our mind. People have missed on the depths of God’s glory because they’re contented with milk and not the meat of Scriptures, and they never reach that stage when God’s Word is as honey to them.

When you hear God’s Word preached in fellowship or in church, you will learn a lot. But there are a lot more in stored when you make time for discipleship. In that small circle of believers, you can ask and challenge, you can share and care, you can open up and be accountable. You enter into a community, you journey together into knowing more about God. I tell you, this is one of the few experiences that I will never trade for anything else in the world.   

The Aim of Discipleship

But why are doing all these? Because we want to reach Col. 1:28 “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

Our goal must be to present everyone mature in Christ. By whatever means possible, let us strive and work to achieve this. And it is not easy, I tell you.

Discipleship should replicate Christlikeness—renewed minds, equipped hands for ministry, transformed hearts. This is a bit of a warning for all of us handling Bible Studies (T-Groups, Shepherding Groups, Small Groups). Discipleship is not a simple mentorship. You should not be producing disciples who are dependent on you, their discipler. You should not be producing disciples who are your clones—laughing at the same joke, frowning on the same movies, having the same mannerisms. No!

As someone involved in discipleship, it has always been my desire to point everyone I teach to Jesus and make them realize that we should all run to Jesus, we should all learn about Him, we must all depend on Him, we must draw strength and inspiration from Him, we must all be like Him. This is also the reason why I seldom or almost never call anyone my disciple, because we are all disciples of the one Great Discipler—Jesus Christ.

A Final Note

There is a reason why Paul told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” The reason is continuity. God desires that every generation of believers will grow in their relationship with Jesus so that He can use them to lead and guide the next generation of believers.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 is also very telling. We read, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…”

I am actually overstaying if you may. In DCF, this is no longer my generation. My generation ended in 2010. But I stayed because I felt that I have not yet fulfilled Colossians 1:28 to the best of my abilities. I urge you, however, to take the lead, not to depend on me, but to take the bold strides of faith in discipleship.

Do not miss out on your generation’s great privilege of discipling the younger generation. And to the younger generations, be excited and prepare yourselves as the helm will be passed on to you very soon. Don’t worry, because all these will come to pass, by the grace and mercy of God. Amen.
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